Tag Archives: time management

Ruthless

My God, but writing is a ruthless, selfish business, utterly incompatible with parenthood, friends, a social life, marriage, work or all-purpose general connectivity with other human beings.

Somewhere in every book about writing, there’s an abjuration to make sacrifices and investments. Give up exercise, get a room of your own. Stop date night (you could be writing), and rent a table at a local cafe with no distracting piped music and no wifi. The implication is that if you mean it, if you really, really mean it, the writing is all that counts in your life and everything else that elbows its way is an unpleasant distraction from the core business of writing. In When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Mama and Papa slept in separate rooms so Papa could get on with his writing undisturbed (I have to confess that’s how I finished a dissertation after the birth of our daughter, little elf. But that’s another story).

There’s something wrong with that picture.

I mean, yes, you have to write everyday. I’m an enthusiastic subscriber to the ‘guilt trip’ method where every day I fail to write something that counts (and blog posts, tweets and HE institutional policy papers unfortunately don’t) is a day for flagellation and wailing. Drives my family nuts. But there are reasonable limits.

Without a life to draw on, or a family who feel looked after, I’m no kind of a rounded human being, and if I’m not a rounded human being, I’m no kind of a writer at all. So my current programme demands 500 words a day minimum and it has to be squashed into a place where it has little or no impact on the people who expect stuff from me. If I ever get leave work on time (probably because I’ve arrived early) I take it as read that I can steal an extra half an hour in a tea-shop somewhere on the way home. If I’m on a train out of hours, ditto. At weekends, my partner makes space for me on a Sunday or, if I do the shopping, its understood that I’ll find a corner and a cup of tea somewhere on the way and write. The core of my work practice, of course, is Lunch Hour, without which I’d probably never write anything. Like most things, it’s a compromise and a constant process of negotiation and I’ve had to learn new tricks. But it’s got me through two and bit drafts so far of the current WIP and it’s a workrate that at least allows me to envision completing the thing. If you want to formalise it, you could always sign up to Debbie Ridpath Ohi of Inky Girl fame’s Word A Day Challenge. It can help with that extra bit of motivation if you’ve put it out there on a badge.

Better not ask me about holidays, though.  Now, excuse me but I’ve still got 500 words to write. Though a bit of me is hankering after the last half of Apocalypse Now or, say, eating.


Starting a new novel at lightspeed

Well, by my standards.

Writing has been something that I’ve defined myself by for a very long time. At the age of five, I wrote my first books and comics – they were generally about a page long but what price quantity compared to quality, eh? Throughout my school years, I knew what I was going to be. I was going to be a writer.  I was going to write books, preferably novels.

Something self-evidently went wrong.

I’ve racked my brains about what for a while now and the main wrong turning seems to have been seriously committing to try and become a musician, a job I’m grotesquely unsuited for. I hate networking, get on appallingly badly in any unstructured social situation and am a complete creative control freak. None of these things are an issue if, say, you’re outrageously talented like Prince, but if you’re only moderately talented at best – Lady Gaga, for example – you need a bit more in the way of social skills and capital.  And dress sense. And good looks.

By the time I finally staggered back on course in my late thirties, I was in the middle of a career in new media and began to write a novel on various planes and trains. Eventually, I took six months out to change career tracks and finish it. I did. It isn’t very good – not bad, but not good enough so that anyone would take an interest and, at 130,000 words, way too long for a first publication. Then I set to work on another one. This was interrupted by the arrival of dudelet and the necessity of full-time, steady work.  Nonetheless, I trudged through about 15,000 words and a lot of planning. This was derailed by, firstly, starting a Masters in addition to my job and secondly, the arrival of little elf.

The problem with writing is that it requires time, quite a lot of it and I don’t have any. Or rather, I perceive I don’t have any.  Dudelet, however, has other ideas. I’ll come back to that.

Now Elizabeth at Fog City Writer does regular (great) posts of links to useful, interesting or plain fabulous articles, blogs and resources about writing. One of the items she highlighted in January’s post was Anne Patchett’s article in the Washington Post which basically revolves around the startling discovery that:

The more time I committed to working, the more pages I stacked up.

Yeah, I know. Kind of obvious. But we all know what committing to work actually means – doing some! As parents, carving out even a small amount of regular writing time can seem like an impossible task and the idea of writing a novel becomes something positively Sisyphean in its difficulty – endless, aimless, nameless. We’re talking ants collecting grains of sand from the Sahara, here. We’re talking getting a human being on Pluto. Stopping a toddler whining. And so on.

Patchett also cites a teaching from her yoga teacher about what you do in the first 32 days of the year setting the tone for the whole twelve months.  I don’t have a guru but I do have a six year old and dudelet has decided that I’m not allowed to read him stories any more. I have to make them up. Every night. So I’m making up a novel, something that I suppose slots into the ‘young adult fiction’ category, and each night I’m telling dudelet a new episode. When I’ve finished, I dash off to our bedroom and frantically type out what I’ve told him, summarising where necessary (there are dishes to wash, dinner to be had, a fragment of yoga to be done if I want to be able to keep up with my children in the years to come. And I do like to see supermum occasionally).

Of course, it’s got complicated. Why is this person in a mansion? Why is the man half made of metal? Why? Why? So my commutes, previously devoted to reading high-falutin’ texts (on good days) and iPhone games (on bad days) are now focused on what on earth I’m going to tell him next and working out what this complicated world I’ve sleepwalked into actually consists of. I’ll give you one hint – Jesus never made it big and the Roman Empire became a loosely connected commonwealth. And…Well, the rest’s a secret.

It’s amazing how much time I have when I’ve got the right focus and a tough taskmaster and as I put in the time, the plot summary starts to build up. Let’s hope I can keep it up – I’m starting to get that feeling that I want to know what happens.

I’m also starting feel like a writer again. Well, this blog is called Dad Who Writes, you know.